It was a bit premature, but Isaiah Burse was right about one thing as he raised his index finger while crossing the goal line Friday night: Modesto Christian is indeed No. 1.
The Crusaders proved their point with a 61-40 pounding of Placer, a record-setting win that will be rewarded today with a berth in a state bowl game.
MC will be the top team on the board in two divisions today when the 10 section commissioners meet to decide the pairings for next weekend's five games at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
The Crusaders (14-0) are the top choice for both the Division 3 and Small School games. Until this weekend there was a possibility that Modesto Christian could be pushed up to the D3 game due to a lack of quality Northern California teams in the division. A quirk in the selection process allows commissioners to force small schools to play in a higher division: It's not an option for any other division.
But that scenario appears to be dead. Marin Catholic (13-1) earned consideration in Division 3 with a 27-0 win over Encinal in the North Coast Section final on Friday.
Only section champs can go to a bowl, and Marin Catholic gives commissioners a viable option to MC: CalHiSports.com has Marin No. 2 in its NorCal D3 poll and MC ranked No. 1 in its small-school rankings.
The rankings carry weight, as CalHiSports editor Mark Tennis will address the commissioners before they vote. He is a proponent of leaving MC in the small-school game, in anticipation of a competitive battle against Francis Parker of San Diego — which is also undefeated at 14-0.
The consensus among prep football writers and sources in the bowl selection process has been that MC and Parker would not only be the likely pairing, but the best pairing.
The California Interscholastic Federation, which sanctions and hosts the games and gets all the revenues, needs the small-school game to be respectable after last year's debacle: St. Margaret's of San Juan Capistrano humiliated Hamilton 59-7 in the first small-school bowl.
Another rout could jeopardize the game after only two years. It was added after complaints that small schools were disregarded the first two years of bowl games — none were selected for D3, so the small-school game was created to resolve the issue.
Whether the Crusaders are in the D3 or small-school game doesn't concern Burse.
"We've surprised everyone by winning the section title," said Burse, after MC won its first section title. "We can play better than we did here."
Burse got the Crusaders out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and flashed a "No. 1" sign to his fans as he ran into the end zone. Placer rallied for a 28-all tie at halftime, but MC's 18 unanswered points in the third quarter made it 46-28.
Burse and the offense gave their defense a break in the second half with drives that ate up the clock and kept Placer's potent offense sidelined.
Given time to rest, and using a halftime adjustment, the defense held Placer to 12 points in the final 24 minutes.
Noseguard Tyler Jameson, ineffective in the first half, began to bull rush the center — driving him backward, rather than trying to get past him and make a tackle. That created confusion in the backfield, and twice Placer fumbled on handoffs to running backs.
Those were two of five turnovers that Placer committed in the second half — after a virtually error-free first half.